Alex: Welcome to the Gowling WLG Energy Podcast series. In this series we explore how Canada's energy industry is evolving, the new opportunities that are emerging and assess Canada's position in these markets. Thank you so much for joining us for this episode about biogas and renewable natural gas, or RNG. I'm Alex Sadvari, an environmental lawyer based in Gowling's Toronto Office.
Alison: I'm Alison Grey, an energy lawyer based in Gowling's Calgary office.
Alex: Alison and I are your hosts for this episode and the co-Heads of Gowling WLGs Biogas Group. We're very excited to introduce you to our guest, Jennifer Green, the Executive Director of the Canadian Biogas Association. Jennifer, it's such a pleasure to speak with you today. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions.
Jennifer: Thank you for the opportunity to share our story about biogas and renewable natural gas in Canada. I'm excited.
Alison: Jennifer, before we get into the weeds I was hoping that you could briefly explain to our listeners what biogas and RNG are and how they're produced and used. While many of our listeners probably already know all of this, especially those involved in agriculture and waste and water management. I think it'd be helpful to provide a brief biogas primer to ensure that we're all on the same page.
Jennifer: Sure, it's my pleasure and really something we do often in this space. So, to dive in, biogas is a renewable clean fuel that is climate friendly, cost effective, proven and available. Biogas comes from organic materials like green bin materials collected from residential curbside and commercial institutional premisses, agriculture manure and residues from farms, waster water from Municipal treatment systems and also gas collected at landfills. These organic materials are anaerobically digested, meaning in the absence of oxygen, to form biogas which is rich in methane and the primary component of natural gas. The biogas can be used for heat, electricity or a combination of the two and when biogas is upgraded and cleaned, taking out various impurities, it is referenced as renewable natural gas or RNG. RNG is used as a substitute for natural gas or as a vehicle fuel and is fully interchangeable as a fuel for any gas appliance or fleet. So when using biogas or renewable natural gas we are repurposing methane that may have otherwise been released to the atmosphere as well as displacing fossil based fuels. This is a powerful punch in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Biogas is also a proven technology and we've recently released our 2020 Canadian Biogas Market report that identified over 279 biogas projects installed and successfully operating in Canada. So biogas checks a lot of boxes in terms of offering a climate solution, an energy solution, a waste management solution and an economic solution.
Alex: Thanks so much, Jennifer, that was incredibly helpful and certainly biogas sounds incredibly promising in this new world where we're trying to move as far away from greenhouse emissions as possible and as quickly as possible. While we're on the topic, I know there's some other terms that sometimes get tossed around when we mention biogas, so for any of our listeners who may not know, what is the distinction between biogas, biomass, biofuel? Can you provide some guidance there for us?
Jennifer: Yes. I could even layer on more terms that we hear about, like bioeconomy or bioenergy, into the mix but just to stick to those references that you had identified we differentiate those terms kind of in the following way. Biomass is used to describe organic based materials and think plants, waste or wood, which are used to create renewable energy. So all of these materials have that capacity and biogas is an example of one of these energy forms but it's one of many biofuels that can be generated. So if you look at other biofuels these could include ethanol, biodiesel for example, and in other circles they can be defined, biomass really refers to solid wood fuels. So think wood pellets and while biofuels refers to liquid fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. So hopefully that helps to differentiate between the terms that you referenced.
Alex: Yeah, that's very helpful. I actually had a follow up question there. We're going to get a little bit more into the background of the Canadian Biogas Association later but just wondering what made the Biogas Association call itself that rather than maybe Biofuels or some other name.
Jennifer: It's such a good question because there were probably a number of different names in the pot or in the hat to choose from. Since we're really, as a process we're looking at anaerobic digestion, as I mentioned before, because it is a primary process that get's all of the good stuff started. So anaerobic digestion is kind of a key element in that. Biogas, again, is hugely differentiated from all other biofuels given that there are similarities but differences in terms of how those biofuels get created. There's also a number of different entities out there that also advocate for a lot of the other biofuels that are in this space and growing. When we look at the domain in which we work and advocate for it really kind of came down to we're dealing with that biogas opportunity and we're looking at the Canadian context in terms of who we represent.
Alex: That's helpful and while you're on the topic I was hoping that, so Gowling is a member of the Canadian Biogas Association as our some of our clients, especially our waste clients, some of the environmental consultants we work with are as well, so it'd be great to get a little bit more information about the organization. I know you already started and your role there. I think that would be helpful for our listeners.
Jennifer: This is always a fun question to answer because I think there's been a real rich history. Even though, I would say over only a decade, that we have kind of established roots within this context. It's really grown in the last decade or over the last several years. The Canadian Biogas Association is a member driven industry organization that kind of when you break it down it really supports the diverse needs of the sector with the goal of building a strong robust biogas and renewable natural gas industry in Canada. That's kind of to our core. We currently represent over 150 member companies and these companies span the interests of biogas and RNG production, from agriculture to Municipal opportunities, to the technology and expertise that helped design, build and advise developments of these facilities, to all the way to the demand for cleaner fuels and utilities and others looking to reach net zero. So there's a huge span of interest that helps support our industry collectively. That collective voice provides a strong perspective in advocating for opportunities, programs and policies as well as inform, educate and help connect like mining companies and individuals. So that's really at the core we're trying to help grow the industry by putting in place a number of these active elements to help support the sector in that growth.
Alison: Great. Sounds like an incredible community to be a part of. Gowling's been a member for this year, only, but we're hoping to be part of this community going forward and learn more from all of the other members. Exciting opportunity for us.
Jennifer: It is exciting and I think just in terms of our current time I know there's been an elevated number of interests and questions that have been posed to us. It is an exciting time I would say for our industry.
Alex: Very. So with that in mind I'm going to ask you a little bit of a harder question, or sort of a key question. I was hoping that you could tell us what, in your opinion, it doesn't have to be the Canadian Biogas Association or your members, but in your opinion as a leading figure in the field, what are the key issues facing the Canadian, just to make it a little bit more specific, biogas industry today?
Jennifer: Yeah, and these are sometimes the tougher questions to be asking but the important ones because they're really key to where we're focusing our efforts. Again, kind of going back to that element of supporting the growth of the industry, we know that creating opportunities is only one side of the coin and to be addressing some of the challenges that our member companies are facing is kind of the other piece of that. So, I would kind of distill it down into three key challenges, in terms of what's facing the Canadian biogas industry today. So, first, for the biogas and renewable natural gas sector to grow we need to see strong and clear policy direction at all levels of government that directly support biogas and renewable natural gas development. Now we are slowly seeing biogas and renewable natural gas recognized in policy as pathways to support environmental and climate goals but more can and should be done. Take for instance the clean fuel standard, or clean fuel regulation, as is commonly referred to. That piece of regulation started out very strong with a fairly broad ambitious scope and then reduced that scope by removing the gaseous and solid streams in the latter part of 2020. While disappointing, of course, with no strong kind of signal for the gaseous sectors and obligations of the gaseous sector, the ability for projects to get financed, increasing risk associated with the projects and associated costs and it makes it more difficult for developers to commit to those projects. So the clean fuel regulation, it will provide some incentive, it will provide an opportunity and Provincial and Federal Governments could be doing more to set regulatory or market based mechanisms that also directly accelerate biogas and renewable natural gas adoption across Canada. Examples of some of these stronger actions could include setting renewable gas content requirements. Strategies and targets. So similar to the industry's aspirational targets of 5% renewable natural gas by 2025 and 10% renewable natural gas by 2030, this is again part of where we could be going as well as enabling broader renewable natural gas procurement regionally. We see this in some areas across the country but more regions could again be taking up that charge.
The second key kind of issue that's facing the industry today is that biogas and renewable natural gas projects demand a high capital investment and long term operational costs. It's just inherent in the complexity of the systems. These high costs need to be balanced with climate aspirations and affordability by consumers. So we are kind of at a stage in Canada now where we've introduced carbon pricing, so we have a minimum price on carbon, which will rise to $170.00 per tonne in 2030, and yes, this will have an impact. It will make biogas increasingly competitive against other fossil fuels, but over the long term, in terms of that later horizon of the trajectory of that sliding scale of carbon pricing. In the short term there will be other kind of stop gaps that will be needed to really fill that gap. So funding programs and grants, for example, could help to provide some solutions but what we've actually seen that has moved the dial in a very sustainable way over the longer term, our power purchase agreements which have proven essential to enabling project financing and overall project viability to grow and scale the industry.
Then kind of the third piece of this kind of overarching growth for this sector is that really biogas and renewable natural gas facilities are multi-faceted systems. They are not well understood by governments and the general public and generally undervalued in terms of the broader socio-environmental benefits that they create. Socio-environmental and socio-economic I would say. Whether it's recovering value from the organic materials in the form of digestate to enrich the soils, again a little piece of the puzzle that's often forgotten when we're communicating about biogas projects, or the methane capture to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, or the jobs and economic development in urban and rural areas across Canada, biogas is doing so much more than meets the eye for our farms, our communities, our businesses across Canada. So raising the awareness of biogas is a primary role for the Canadian Biogas Association because we have a good story to tell and more people are really ready, I think, ready to embrace new options going forward for the next generation.
Alison: You certainly do have a great story to tell and I'm so glad that you were able to join us today to share that story with us because it seems that it's been hydrogen that's been getting all the press. That the focus and sort of a public discussion has been on hydrogen as being the future of fuel in Canada, if you will. Where do you see biogas fitting into the discussion about the future of energy in Canada and ultimately the commitment to net zero emissions by 2050?
Jennifer: Yeah, we cannot open our media feeds and not hear about hydrogen today. So I think it's a really relevant question. Hydrogen has taken up a lot of space as really the renewable gas of the future and a lot is riding on its success. I think one of the key differentiators between biogas and hydrogen is the ability for biogas and renewable natural gas to manage our waste materials while at the same time producing a renewable fuel. As long as we're human, and as long as we exist, we will always have the need to manage some of our waste materials. I think it's really, again a bit of a tangent, but I think it's great that we also are looking at ways to minimize waste but there will always be a fraction of material that we will have to manage in some way. So biogas really has the opportunity to address this piece. But biogas and RNG truly compliment hydrogen given that they are both renewable gases, so they're both looking in that form, and they're renewable gases that can deliver a clean fuel solution to support the net zero emission targets that are Provincially or Federally driven. We see biogas and renewable natural gas as a proven available opportunity to realize real greenhouse gas reductions today and in the short term. So that's a huge win I think in our space. Whereas on the other side hydrogen is really a longer term play. So in this way biogas and RNG, we kind of framed them as the bridge to the hydrogen future. To that end, however, I think it's important that the conversation on hydrogen, because it has such appeal and such focus, it's broad enough to acknowledge that biogas and renewable natural gas and syngas and other forms of gases, are given attention because as the investments and infrastructure and codes and standards become developed, specifically under the guise of justice won fuel, there are other fuels in the gaseous space that have many similarities. So we have to be cognizant of that as we're kind of diving into these new territories in developing these kind of frames of rules and regulations. On a more technical level, biogas and renewable natural gas can also support hydrogen in kind of a blending mix, or even as a feedstock in the production of hydrogen. So kind of to sum that up, biogas and renewable natural gas are really ready to work alongside and in step to grow the hydrogen economy and see a number of really quick wins in contributing to net zero emission targets for Canada.
Alison: That's great and that is exciting for Canada and the future of the energy industry because we aren't talking about separate segments. We're talking about fuels that can combine and work together to get us to where we need to be to tackle climate change and get to the net zero emission targets. So, Jennifer, you spoke earlier about there being, I think it was about 279 biogas projects operating in Canada, can you just give us a few quick examples of some of those projects that the Canadian Biogas Association members have developed or are working on?
Jennifer: There's so many to consider and that too I think is one of the strengths that the biogas and renewable natural gas industry has at play here today. We've got a very dynamic, but a very versatile adaptable and ready to scale industry, depending on the circumstances. So some examples, and I won't say specific projects, but generally we have agricultural projects that can span from 20 kilowatt, that metering installations, up to 500 kilowatt biogas to electricity projects that are generating green electrons onto, for example, the Ontario power grid. We also have projects that are much, much larger, looking at tapping, again, that methane from landfill gas projects and those projects, again, dotted in Quebec and British Columbia, they are pulling off that methane and producing renewable natural gas and injecting it into the natural gas grids. We also have Municipalities that have started embracing anaerobic digestion to enable renewable natural gas to fuel their waste fleets and this is happening in Surrey, British Columbia. So any of these projects kind of really cut to the core of that versatility and illustrate the closed loop of energy, nutrients and environmental benefits that can be realized with biogas and renewable natural gas projects. So I could go on and on and on about projects and how great they are and oftentimes people say, "I can't believe that we don't really know more about this." So again that gets to the heart of that awareness and education piece that's at play. But we have a number of great projects that have been successful in Canada and we're working to grow on that.
Alison: That's awesome because a thing that struck me in listening to you talk about biogas and the projects is you're right. We, as human beings, produce waste and this is a great opportunity to turn that waste into something productive, and useable, and that can help us create a cleaner renewable energy source that can help us tackle the climate change issues and environmental issues that we're struggling with today. So this is really exciting and we have so many questions that we would love to ask but we are running out of time. We will definitely have you back on the Gowling Energy podcast soon so that we can hear more about biogas and the exciting projects that are underway in Canada. Before we go I just wanted to take the opportunity to say that at Gowling we think the Canadian Biogas Association is an excellent organization and we're proud to be a member of that organization. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today, Jennifer, and thank you all for listening. If you have any questions about biogas, RNG or this podcast episode, please feel free to reach out to Alex Sadvari or me, Alison Grey. You can find our contact information on the Gowling website. You can also check out the Canadian Biogas Association's website if you're interested in learning more about the work they are doing. Thank you.